GOP praises compromise that led to end of school funding impasse
Illinois schools will be receiving state funding payments through a new evidence-based model thanks to a compromise bill that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law on Aug. 31, according to a release from the Illinois Republican Party.
The measure, Senate Bill 1947, has been hailed as historic reform by both parties, according to coverage rounded up the by Illinois GOP.
"For far too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools,” Rauner said in a statement. “The system needed to change. We have changed it. We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It's a historic day for Illinois.”
Rauner and Republicans have primarily celebrated SB1947’s creation of a scholarship program that will grant individuals and companies tax credits in exchange for contributing to scholarship funds, according to the Chicago Tribune. That paper's editorial board noted that the program will not be a voucher program and praised it as a way for low-income students to attend private or public schools outside of their area.
The Quincy Herald-Whig reported that the scholarships will be available to students whose household income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or approximately $73,000 for a family of four. The program will grant donors tax credits worth 75 percent of their scholarship contributions and caps tax credits at $1 million per year.
"Our leaders worked together to provide school choice protection for parents who want the best education possible for their children,” Rauner said in his statement. “This is accomplished by ensuring that district-authorized charter schools receive equal funding, and by providing families with limited financial resources the same access to private schools. The Tax Credit Scholarship program encourages individuals and businesses to enable families to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.”
Teachers unions and some educators, including Quincy-area administrators quoted by the Herald-Whig, have criticized the program, arguing that it diverts tax money to private schools and stands to exacerbate problems at struggling public schools.
At an event at Ball Charter School in Springfield, Rauner also applauded the bill's provision for state mandate relief and the creation of a commission to analyze tax increment financing districts, according to the State Journal Register.
Illinois’ current education funding system relies heavily on property taxes, which has led to large disparities in the amount spent per student in wealthy districts compared with poorer districts; WTTW reports that the amount can range from $30,000 to $7,500 per student.
This inequity led to widespread support for education spending reform, but the original bill to establish an evidence-based model, Senate Bill 1, was criticized by Republicans due to additional considerations granted to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Rauner issued an amendatory veto of the bill to remove the CPS additions, among other changes, WTTW reported.
SB1947, a compromise worked out by legislative leaders, addresses the priorities of both parties. CPS estimates that it is set to receive an additional $450 million from the state, including $220 million for its teacher pensions, and will be able to raise property taxes in the city, according to WTTW.
The measure took two tries to pass in the House, with Democrats largely rejecting the bill on the first vote in a ceremonial rejection of the scholarship and tax-credit program, the Chicago Sun -Times reported. The House then voted on an override of the Rauner's veto of SB1, which failed. The chamber then voted again on SB1947, and it passed, 73-34. The measure passed a day later in the Senate, 38-13.
In its release, the Illinois GOP noted that nearly as many Republicans as Democrats voted for the measure in the House, despite the GOP having 16 fewer members.